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The School Lunch That Saved Europe

United States and British planes undertook a heroic mission into the Nazi-occupied part of the Netherlands during the final days of World War II. But their mission had nothing to do with striking the German army. Instead, the British and the Americans were dropping desperately-needed food supplies to the starving Dutch.

One British pilot described how "children ran out of school waving excitedly," as his plane unloaded its cargo, a rather dramatic delivery of a school lunch! This was quite appropriate as school lunches would play such a vital role in winning the peace in Europe. Today, as we search for peace in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Sudan, we should remember this lesson from the WWII generation.

Look how the U.S. army tackled the problems of Austria after World War II. General Mark Clark and his staff knew that reconstruction would fail if children were malnourished and lacked education. The U.S. army and our allies wisely supported school lunch programs in Austria. This was a critical decision; for even though the war was over, the relentless enemy of hunger was still on the attack.

Food shortages constantly threatened the Austrian school lunch program. In early 1946, for instance, the size of the meal had to be reduced while the U.S and British Army gathered supplies.

The school lunch initiative in Austria needed to be strengthened and expanded. But this would be no easy task. Difficult reconstruction years would lie ahead. Harsh winters and drought would grip Europe, making food shortages much worse.

Dr. Avelheid Wawerka, who ran children's clinics in Vienna, wrote about the horror of hunger in Austria. In May, 1947, the Washington Post published her article. Wawerka wrote how school feeding provided by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) was at least one respite for children in the storm of hunger. But UNRRA did not last.

Fortunately, charities like Catholic Relief Services (CRS) began leading the charge to strengthen school feeding in Austria during 1947. By 1948 UNICEF, with the help of CRS and others, started delivering school meals to hundreds of thousands of Austrian children.

School feeding was a top priority in America's foreign policy of that time. This was made clear when President Harry Truman sent former president Herbert Hoover on a mission to fight hunger in Europe and Asia during 1946. Hoover's team paid special attention to securing child feeding programs in each country. Some were in better shape than others. England, for example, was able to provide extensive child feeding programs.

Then there was Germany, where children were suffering greatly in the war's aftermath. Hoover started a school lunch program that fed millions of children. And leave it to General Lucius Clay to give the strongest description of the power of a school lunch. Clay wrote that school meals "saved the health of German youth" and "did more to convince the German people of our desire to recreate their nation than any other action on our part."

Today, we must not forget school lunches in countries like Afghanistan, Nepal, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq and so many others. For a school lunch is one of the key ingredients for peace and development in those nations. As an example, the UN World Food Programme just announced a new school feeding program for Iraqi children who live in impoverished districts. We should see to it that this program receives the funding support it needs. Democracy in Iraq will be better served with school meals to strengthen the children who are the future of the country.

Child feeding programs are not something that can be set aside to another day. As Herbert Hoover said during the fight against post-WWII hunger, "Children cannot wait for their reconstruction until some other time; their future is being made now."

A global school lunch program is a goal the international community can achieve, if it has the will. Will this generation answer the call to combat child hunger?